Here's a story that stinks: Cook County's sewage management and flood prevention agency, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD), costs taxpayers more than a billion dollars a year.
Where's all that money going? Turns out, about 60% of all contracts approved by the Board of Commissioners of the MWRD went to their own campaign donors.
You read that right: a handful of private companies give major campaign donations to keep the incumbent Commissioners (all Democrats) elected, and in return, the Board approves hundreds of millions of dollars of contracts for those same companies.
Is there any return on that taxpayer investment? Not much—the Chicago Tribune found that, on average, the MWRD was discharging raw sewage into the waterways every six days. In 2017, there were nearly 2000 separate raw sewage dumps throughout Cook County. For a billion bucks a year, that's pretty poor performance.
It stinks—but voters can take action on March 20th!Read more
Cook County taxpayers spend over a billion dollars a year on the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD).
In return, they're supposed to get clean water and effective sewage treatment—but reporting by the Chicago Tribune showed that the MWRD dumps raw, untreated sewage into the waterways every six days, on average, often for multiple days in a row during periods of heavy rain. There were roughly 2000 individual "combined sewer outflows" (the technical term for raw sewage releases) in 2017 alone.
That's an unacceptable level of contamination, and because of it, the water quality in Chicago and Cook County waterways often fails to meet EPA minimum standards. Despite those failings, MWRD leadership described their system as "working as intended" following rains that caused multiple discharges this February.
The good news is, voters can take direct action on March 20th!Read more
It's a unique approach for a politician asked about pay-to-play donations: hold up the ethics standards of Chicago and Cook County, famous worldwide for their machine politics and backroom deals, as the model for your campaign.
In a Daily Herald article on the appearance of pay-to-play corruption at the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD), incumbent Commissioner Debra Shore, a Democrat, defended her campaign contributions by claiming that her campaign followed ethics rules "similar to" those used by the City of Chicago and Cook County.
There's just one problem: Shore, whose campaign committee has taken more than $90,000 in donations from firms that received millions of dollars in MWRD contracts during her time on the Board of Commissioners, has repeatedly taken donations that would violate those ethics rules.Read more
There's money in the sewer system, and not just the loose change that falls down drains: over the past five years, elected Democrats on the Board of Commissioners of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) awarded their campaign donors more than $722 million in taxpayer-funded contract spending.
A comparison of campaign finance records and MWRD contracting records shows that roughly 60% of all contract spending approved by Board of Commissioner votes in the past five years (the period covered by the District's online contract reporting) went to businesses which had donated to the campaign committee of at least one of the Commissioners voting on the contracts' approval.
All told, the Board approved 190 separate contracts for campaign donor businesses, totaling $722,543,566.27 in value.
Campaign Cash Nets Big Return on Investment at MWRD
Some of the most prolific donors to MWRD Commissioner campaign committees were also the recipients of some of the largest shares of contracting dollars, including $14,245,000 to construction company F. H. Paschen (donor to seven Commissioners' campaign committees), $28,516,848.74 to engineering firm Independent Mechanical Industries (six campaign committees), and $288,758,500 IHC Construction (six campaign committees).
Other campaign donors that received MWRD contracts included law firms, office supply and tech companies, chemical and petroleum suppliers, trucking/hauling operations, and even global water privatization giant Veolia Water (the same firm that, as a private contractor, pronounced the water in Flint, MI fit to drink in 2015, shortly before that city's lead contamination became a national story).
On average, firms that made direct donations to the campaign committees of MWRD Commissioners received $4,566.90 in contracts for every dollar they donated.
Contracts awarded to campaign donors were also significantly more valuable than contracts awarded to other firms: the average MWRD contractor over the five-year period examined received $684,031.66 in contracts from the District, while campaign donor firms received an average of $10,035,327.31—nearly fifteen times as much contracting income as non-donors.Read more
In theory, Cook County's taxpayer-funded Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) is run by a miniature legislative body: an elected, nine-member Board of Commissioners, whose votes determine which plans go ahead and which do not, which contracts are approved and which are not, and so on.
It's a nice theory, which could allow for a modicum of democratic control over the MWRD's enormous spending and taxing powers—but in practice, the all-Democrat Board of Commissioners is little more than a rubber stamp.
Five Years of Unbroken "Yes" Votes on Taxpayer-Funded Contracts
Examination of the MWRD Board of Commissioners legislative proceedings from the last five years shows that, in the course of over 5,500 individual measures brought before the Board for a vote, only 21 were rejected, and of those, only one saw any dissent in the final vote-count. All the rest were unanimous decisions.
It must be nice to work in an environment of such harmony, but taxpayers can legitimately question whether a nine-member voting body that approves 99.6% of the proposals put before it serves any real deliberative purpose.
Of particular note: the Board of Commissioners has never once in the last five years turned down a proposal for an outside contract that reached the Board floor. Over the course of those years, the Board rejected zero dollars of proposed contract spending, and approved $1,223,732,635.54—that's $1.2 billion, with a B, as in "boy, that's a lot of taxpayer dollars being rubber-stamped by the Board."
In exchange for the Board's deliberative efforts over the past five years, taxpayers have paid somewhere upwards of $3.1 million in Board member salaries (which start at $70,000/year), and will continue to pay into the pensions on those salaries for years to come.
That's a steep price for half a decade of automatic "Aye" votes, particularly when the Commissioners are supported in their legislative workload by a staff of 21 administrative assistants (another $2-million-plus in salaries each year, plus pension costs down the road). With two of those posts filled by the children of current, sitting Commissioners, taxpayers may have cause to question whether they're getting value for money there, too.Read more
The Green Party doesn't often get a chance to run for majority control of an elected body in a single electoral cycle—but that's exactly how the Illinois Green Party is positioned for the November 2018 election in Cook County.
With five of the nine seats on Cook County's Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Board of Commissioners on the ballot in November, majority control of the billion-dollar, taxpayer-funded agency is suddenly in play. And as the only opposition party with five candidates filed for those five seats, the Green Party has a compelling case that voters tired of decades-long one-party rule by the Democrats should rally behind the Green flag in November.
The catch? Thanks to a decision by the Democrat-controlled Cook County Clerk's office, one of those five seats will only be available to candidates who participate in a special, write-in-only ballot line on their party's March 20th primary ballots. And in Illinois, a legal minimum for write-ins means that candidate Geoffrey Cubbage will need at least 1,720 Cook County voters to pull a Green Party ballot and correctly write in his name.
The party has promised a nation-wide fundraising outreach for the write-in primary, encouraging Greens and third-party supporters from all across the country to chip in at the campaign's donation page. Small-dollar donations don't just fund critical voter outreach, according to Illinois Green Party officers—they also demonstrate a robust supporter base to endorsing institutions like media outlets and issue-based advocacy groups.Read more
Write-in-only primary gives Greens a takeover opportunity: "We're now running for majority control."
CHICAGO -- The Illinois Green Party has announced a fifth candidate for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Board of Commissioners, which oversees Cook County's billion-dollar, 2000-employee, taxpayer-funded wastewater treatment and flood prevention agency.
The death of MWRD Commissioner Timothy Bradford in December 2017, just days before the close of the filing period for the 2018 primaries, resulted in a snap decision from the Cook County Clerk's office to put Bradford's unfinished two-year term on the March 20th primary ballots -- with no candidates listed, making it a write-in-only election. The decision was issued on January 11th, and filing for write-in candidates closed one week later, on January 18th.
Illinois Green Party Secretary Geoffrey Cubbage, a former data analyst on international aid projects in Afghanistan, including agricultural and water-supply development initiatives, has filed as a Green Party write-in candidate, joining four other Greens in the race. With nine seats total, that puts a majority in play in 2018 -- and the Green Party promises a hard campaign to win it all.Read more
Monday, Dec. 11, 2017 - The final day to file objections to candidate ballot access petitions has passed, and the Illinois Green Party slate for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Board of Commissioners went unchallenged. Your Illinois Greens will be on the ballot in the March 20, 2018 primary election!
The slate of candidates representing the Illinois Green Party will be:
- Chris Anthony, 6-year full term
- Karen Roothaan, 6-year full term
- Tammie Vinson, 6-year full term
- Rachel Wales, 2-year unfinished term
MWRD candidates will be hitting the street the weekend of Nov. 18th and 19th -- State Street, specifically, along Chicago's busiest blocks for weekend pedestrian traffic!
With two weeks left in the filing period, the Green Party candidates for the MWRD Board of Commissioners are asking volunteers and supporters to join them between 10am and 4pm, Saturday Nov. 18th and Sunday Nov. 19th.
ILGP staff will have extra clipboards and pens, and will be available to train first-time petitioners. All supporters have to do is show up at the intersection of State & Randolph and check in with one of the Green Party petitioners already out on the sidewalk!
At 4:29pm on Saturday, October 14th, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago announced via Twitter that “The gates at Chicago River and Wilmette Harbor are open to allow flow to Lake Michigan.”
The “flow” referred to is a “combined sewer outflow” -- in other words, untreated stormwater, wastewater, and raw sewage, all mixed together and dumped into the same Lake Michigan that provides our drinking water, as well as other parts of the Chicago Area Waterway System.Read more